The Phillies (2-0) powered up for the second game in a row to open the 2019 campaign, rolling past the Atlanta Braves (0-2) by an 8-6 score on Saturday afternoon at raucous Citizens Bank Park.
For the second straight game it was the club’s new-found long ball power that led the way. The team used Maikel Franco‘s second no-doubt homer of the season and the first-ever blasts from both J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform to supply the difference.
For Harper, who agreed to a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies just one month ago, the first home run was also his first hit with the team. The second-deck shot to right-center field was one of the longest in Citizens Bank Park history and elicited a deafening roar from the home crowd, which demanded a curtain-call from their new hero.
Philadelphia, we have lift off!
HARPER SENDS ONE INTO ORBIT! pic.twitter.com/XMagJ8rFft
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 30, 2019
Harper was happy to oblige, pumping both arms into the air as he faced the crowd behind the Phillies dugout and roared back at them with as much energy and excitement as they were washing over him.
“It was awesome. One of my favorite homers that I’ve ever had, definitely,” said the Phillies right fielder to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Gregg Murphy following the game.
The game didn’t begin well for the home side. The Braves broke out to a 3-0 lead on the strength of a 1st inning RBI single from Freddie Freeman and a 2nd inning two-run homer from Dansby Swanson. For Freeman it was the first of four hits on the day as he almost single-handedly kept the visitors in this one.
Shibe Vintage Sports Starting Pitching Performances
All of that damage came against Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, who did not fare well in his first outing of the season. Pivetta lasted 4.2 innings, surrendering four earned runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out four. He threw 76 pitches, 50 of those for strikes and was touched for three extra-base hits, including the Swanson homer.
Meanwhile, rookie starter Bryse Wilson was pretty much cruising along into the bottom of the 4th, allowing just a 2nd inning RBI single off the bat of Realmuto. But the Phillies got to him big-time in that home 4th, with Cesar Hernandez lacing a one-out RBI triple followed by Franco’s blast off the left-field foul pole.
Wilson was knocked out at that point having allowed four earned runs on five hits over 3.1 innings. He struck out three and walked four, throwing just 40 strikes among his 73 pitches.
Phillies bullpen and power make the difference
Freeman’s RBI single in the top of the 5th got the Braves back even at 4-4. After retiring one more batter, Pivetta’s day was done. Over the next 3.1 innings the Phillies bullpen group of Adam Morgan, Juan Nicasio, Jose Alvarez, Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez would shut the Braves out without allowing a hit. The five hurlers walked two and struck out four over that period.
The home side responded immediately in the bottom of the 5th when Realmuto crushed his first Phillies home run to dead center. The two-run blast scored Rhys Hoskins and gave the Phillies a 6-4 lead that they would never relinquish.
In the bottom of the 7th, Harper provided his dramatics to make it 7-4. In the bottom of the 8th, Franco popped a fly behind first base along the foul line. Three Braves sprinted for it and the ball would end up popping from Freeman’s glove. Hernandez raced all the way around from first base to score and extend the lead out to an 8-4 margin.
Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler turned the ball over to David Robertson for the 9th inning, and for the second straight game was let down by his new big-money reliever. Robertson surrendered the first hit by the Phillies pen on the day, and it was a big one. A two-run homer from Charlie Culberson, who had entered the game as part of a double-switch, cut the Phillies lead down to 8-6.
Robertson struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce. But then Freeman continued to haunt the Phillies, raking a double down the left field line. That brought 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna to the plate as the tying run with two outs. Robertson buckled down, getting the 20-year old to sky out to Harper in right for the final out.
Phillies Nuggets Player of the Game: *Bryce Harper*
While there were players who contributed more on the day, there was no doubt that Harper electrified the crowd like no one else. His blast also proved a key hit, extending the Phillies lead at an important time in the game. Ultimately it proved to be the difference-maker.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) March 30, 2019
During his post-game press conference, Kapler spoke on the first of what he expects to be many such moments for his superstar right fielder:
“I thought that was a pretty special moment. I think facing Biddle, Harper had been 0-5 with something like four strikeouts. Somewhere in that neighborhood. I know it was someone that Bryce has had trouble with in the past. And, took a pitch in off the plate and hit it 460 feet into the upper deck in right-center field. His bat speed is just lightning and the bigger the spotlight, the bigger the moment, the more Bryce shines.”
- Sunday, March 31, 7:05pm vs the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park
- TV coverage as ESPN’s Game of the Week
- Radio: SportsRadio 94 WIP FM, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)